Guest Blog: Ambassadors Work toward Watershed-Scale Governance

Lake Windermere, BC (Photo: Kalista Pruden)

Lake Windermere is actually a shallow widening of the Columbia River. (Photo: Kalista Pruden)

Freshwater Sustainability is one of the Real Estate Foundation's grant program focus areas. We have been supporting freshwater projects in the East Kootenays since 2003, and have awarded two grants to the Ambassadors. One of them was for the watershed governance pilot discussed in this article. (Visit the Projects page to view all the grants.)

The Lake Windermere Ambassadors (Ambassadors) are a diverse group of citizens who direct lake water quality monitoring and conduct water education and stewardship programs for Lake Windermere in BC's East Kootenays. Since we formed as a society in 2010, we have been working towards finding better ways to steward the lake and its watershed through identifying an appropriate form of watershed governance.

We started by gathering information about watershed governance models throughout Canada. We quickly learned that there aren’t existing watershed governance models that can be exactly replicated in our area. Therefore, one of our early steps was to develop a work plan for creating a locally appropriate governance model that would draw from experiences elsewhere, but also gather local input.

Anna Warwick Sears from the Okanagan Basin Water Board helped us with our first facilitated community conversation about the watershed in December 2012. In April 2013, we hosted a facilitated workshop where the discussion of watershed-scale water challenges led the participants to identify a need for more monitoring, better data and watershed scale governance. Our learning about the Cowichan Basin Watershed Board’s successes with field trips inspired us to lead our own watershed field trip. Our tour, held in October 2013, generated a shared sense of being “residents of a watershed” among participants.

In 2014, the Ambassadors plan to continue to raise community awareness about the watershed, hold one-on-one meetings with individual watershed stakeholder groups, and coordinate more watershed tours. We hope to facilitate the creation of a core group of key stakeholders that will start working towards establishing a Columbia Headwaters watershed group. The Ambassadors will work to support and celebrate this process, but the Columbia Headwaters watershed group will ultimately be community-driven.

If successful, the Ambassadors’ water stewardship work at the Columbia River’s Headwaters will pass clean water downstream to the rest of the Columbia River. If our community’s model of watershed governance is successful, it will pass ideas downstream to other communities, encouraging an inclusive and collaborative approach to watershed governance in the Canadian Columbia Basin.

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Kirsten Harma coordinates watershed education and stewardship programs, shoreline restoration, and lake water quality monitoring in her role as the Lake Windermere Ambassadors Program Coordinator. She also is working with colleagues, experts and community watershed stakeholders to develop a collaborative model of governance for the watershed. Kirsten has an MSc in Resource Management and Environmental Studies as well as prior experience working on applied water research and monitoring.